21 December 2015

Tanzania: Extinction Threatens Hadzabe People


IT has come to light that the Hadzabe, who live in Yaeda valley in Mbulu District face possible starvation because the baobab trees on whose fruits and seeds they subsist are disappearing mainly due to old age and forest clearing.

Baobabs are trees that normally have huge trunks and are resistant even to the harshest of droughts. The trees also store drinkable water in their trunks. The Hadzabe who live in Yaeda valley have been alarmed by the gradual disappearance of these important trees.

As if this threat is not bad enough, some invaders have cleared huge tracts of the forest intent on establishing farms, creating pastureland and building homes. In the eyes of the now few Hadzabe diehards, the invaders are vermin. They should be shot with poison-tip arrows and killed.

Well, the so-called invaders might be shocked upon hearing this but, certainly, the diehards are normally not kind to invaders, all of whom look alien. And the invaders think the Hadzabe are wild animals!

The Hadzabe, who are also disparagingly known in the parlance historians as Bushmen, can, indeed, be hostile to invaders. The population of the endangered Hadzabe, who are indeed, indigenous Tanzanians, stands at less than 5,000 individuals at the moment.

They are believed to have been living in the remote Yaeda valley for almost 100,000 years relying on the baobab trees for both food and shelter. Some historians consider them to be the last hunter gatherer society left in Africa, their lifestyle unchanged for millennia.

Surprisingly, not many Tanzanians are aware that some of their kinsmen and women still live in burrows, eat raw monkey meat, dress scantily and have never seen a doctor, a book or a cup of tea. These astonishing people are the Hadzabe who live around Lake Eyasi. Their language resembles the click languages of bushmen further south in the Kalahari Desert.

Their small population was seriously threatened, in particular during the period when Mwalimu Julius Nyerere tried to introduce his Ujamaa policy. The Hadzabe resisted the forcible settlement policies of the Nyerere era and nowadays most of their children have never seen a doctor or a school.

The bush provides for all their needs and is a classroom for their children. However, the Hadzabe are often willing to usher visitors into their simple bush homes where the tree canopy alone or a cave provides them with shelter.

They live entirely off the bush and from hunting, generally small antelopes and baboons. During rainy seasons gazelles and antelopes come down from the Ngorongoro or Serengeti wildlife sanctuaries to their lush bushlands offering them richer pickings.

In the recent past their hunting activities were resented by trophy hunters. The string on their lethal bows is made from giraffe tendons and the arrows are coated with a strong poison made from tree sap. The commiphora tree provides excellent firewood which they kindle by rubbing wood.

The Hadzabe, who are also known as Tindiga, possess a thrilling 'click' language and uncanny hunting skills. They use bows and arrows in hunting. They gather wild fruits, tubers, roots and leaves for food.

While some families live in cave-like holes inside baobab tree trunks, others live in "burrows" underground or in crude thatched huts. It is intriguing, to say the least, to see that some indigenous Tanzanians still live so primitively 54 years after Independence. Of course, it is on record that efforts to improve the living standards of the Hadzabe in yesteryears failed.

In one instance, a group of Hadzabe people who were encouraged to live in a modern house near their forest refused to eat and some nearly died of starvation. Their refusal to eat what did not look like food to them (rice and ugali) baffled the officials who were detailed to make the experiment. One Hadzabe man who ate ugali contracted an infection and died.

Frightened, the remaining Hadzabe sneaked back into the forest. They continued gathering wild fruits, roots and tubers and hunting baboons, monkeys, antelopes and other animals with bows and arrows.

And when a primary school was introduced in their locality the few pupils who were enrolled disappeared after a few days. But a lot of water must have gone down the bridge since those years.

Some cultural changes must have sprouted in the Hadzabe community bringing them closer to modernity. Although Hadzabe men still hunt, not all look wild or vicious. But they dislike invaders. Some of the Hadzabe now take kindly to visitors including tourists.

They do not forage in the forest in the nude anymore as some indigenous tribesmen do in India, the Amazon Forest, Indonesia or the Kalahari Desert in Namibia. The Hadzabe are opportunist hunters. Operating solo, they eat most animals, except reptiles. And they are lovers of honey.

They brave huge swarms of bees to steal combs from high up in baobab trees. The Hadzabe never grow any food or cash crops. While the Hadzabe like to live alone, they periodically come across other different people in the bush.

They trade tobacco in return for animal skins. They are a musical people, enjoying song and dance as a core part of their lives. Already, a few Hadzabe men wear shorts and their women appear in cotton skirts. Some speak crude Kiswahili and manage to get the message across. They frequently meet tourists in the forest during their hunting forays and interact with them cordially.

Continual encroachment by people originating from as far afield as Mwanza, Shinyanga and Singida, whose activities include crop cultivation and raising large herds of cattle has taken a huge toll on vegetation, especially on the baobabs, on Hadzabe territory.

This means the livelihood of the Hadzabe is under threat. Their population is likely to shrink further. So it is high time another attempt to usher in a modicum of civilization was made.

They need schools, dispensaries, clean drinkable water and other critical needs. Some tour companies have been criticized for offering tourist trips to visit the few Hadzabe who have moved into settlements after giving up their hunting ways to live off holidaymakers' dollars. These are typically shy, but welcoming of visitors.


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